Prime Minister Tony Abbott has sought to tread a fine diplomatic line as he expresses Australia’s official anger at the executions of Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan.
The Bali Nine ringleaders were among seven foreign nationals and one Indonesian shot dead by firing squad on the island of Nusakambangan early Wednesday morning.
With Foreign Minister Julie Bishop by his side at Parliament House in Canberra hours later, a grave Mr Abbott described the executions as both cruel and unnecessary.
While he respected Indonesia’s sovereign right to uphold tough domestic laws against drug smugglers, the prime minister said it could not be business as usual between Canberra and Jakarta.
For that reason Australia’s ambassador Paul Grigson will be recalled for consultations with the government.
Mr Abbott also revealed the government had suspended ministerial contacts with Indonesia once it became clear the executions would proceed.
They would remain suspended for a period, he said.
Whether Australia will cut any of the $650 million in foreign aid it provides to Indonesia annually will be left to the May budget.
Mr Abbott was at pains to stress the relationship between Australia and Indonesia was very important.
“But it has suffered as a result of what’s been done over the last few hours,” he told reporters.
The decision to recall the ambassador was “very unusual, indeed unprecedented”.
“So I don’t want to minimise the gravity of what we’ve done.”
The prime minister avoided making any personal criticism of the Indonesian president Joko Widodo who rebuffed personal pleas for clemency from Mr Abbott.
“I don’t want to personalise it, but obviously I do regret that while my representations have been listened to patiently and courteously, they have not been heeded.”
Leader-to-leader contact will continue.
Mr Abbott said it was his devout hope that all the promise and high hopes that came with the election of President Widodo in 2014 would be fulfilled because it was in Australia’s best interests that he succeed.
“While this is a dark moment in the relationship I am confident that the relationship will be restored for the great benefit of both our countries.”
Mr Abbott cautioned Australians from taking their own action in protest against the executions, even though he understood people’s anger.
“I would say to people yes, you are absolutely entitled to be angry but we’ve got to be very careful to ensure that we do not allow our anger to make a bad situation worse.”
Personally, Mr Abbott expressed grief at the deaths of Sukumaran and Chan and the impact they were having on their families.
“Whatever people think of the death penalty, whatever people think of drug crime, the fact is that these two families have suffered an appalling tragedy.
“As a parent, as a family member myself, I feel for these families at what is a very, very difficult time.”